The Secret Millionaire, Channel 4

by | Nov 29, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

We’re still not sure how we feel about this show. It was by turns patronising, uplifting, humorous and irritating as well as always highly problematic. Thumbs in the middle.

What was good about it?

• In the end we could afford to overlook the programme’s deficiencies because the money that millionaire Ben Way donated and invested so clearly made a fantastic difference to the Pedro Club youth centre in Hackney, to young designer Wayne and former boxer and youth worker James.

• The unselfish work done by James and Pedro Club manager Yufu for the youth of the area was the most gratifying aspect of the programme. Even cocksure Ben was genuinely humbled by their dedication.

• Yufu’s emotional reaction to Ben’s gift of £20,000 was genuinely moving.

• The contrast between Yufu and Ben. While Yufu eventually admitted that at one time he was not paid for two years but refused to abandon his work, Ben’s highly successful (as he kept reminding us) business career was all about making money.

• Ben originally suggested that the Pedro Club would survive without his help, because he believed struggling charities ‘always find a way’. The moment when he realised the poverty of that viewpoint and the dichotomy inherent within it, was like seeing a man receive a hypodermic needle of reality.

• There were some excellent characters in the documentary. Charismatic former boxer James, youth worker Yufu, ambitious designer Wayne and several others all helped form a fascinating cast of sorts. We particularly found ourselves rooting for Wayne to receive a helping hand as his clothing designs showed genuine originality and we wanted one of his t-shirts.

• The socially-conscious internet cafe that gave away free half hours of internet access to kids who were succeeding at school.

What was bad about it?

• Plenty. Uppermost in our minds is the patronising nature of this series: Rich man lives with ‘poor folk’ and, with his heart warmed, he donates or invests some of his large wedge to help the poor souls improve their lots. It’s an extremely precarious proposition and in this episode it only worked because of the delight and relief shown by the beneficiaries of Ben’s cash.

• We could not empathise with Ben and in truth struggled to like him. He was brash and cocksure, although he wasn’t helped by editing that emphasised details like his ‘B’ and ‘W’ cufflinks or the moment when he emptied his wallet to reveal a rainbow of Amex cards.

• There was a certain amount of sloppiness present. At the end when he donated £10,000 towards James’s wedding (he and fiancee Carmen had been engaged for 19 years), James’s entire family just happened to be waiting for him in the kitchen. Early on he was asked by someone what he does for a living and Ben answered, “Er, basically, er, volunteering.” It was the most basic of questions yet he had completely failed to prepare a cover story.

• There was a distasteful element of competition hinted at in the show. Ben was supposed to find out who needed his cash most, as if people had to prove how poor they were before he’d give it. In the end he spread the money around, but it ill-behooved the producers to talk up the competition aspect. We half-expected there to be a facility where viewers could pay 50p to text in and vote off those who didn’t seem desperate enough.

• Ben’s patronising and ignorant statement that Hackney was ‘like another country’.

• The depressing moment when one young woman in the Pedro Centre claimed that Jade Goody and Jordan were her role models.

• The producers had huge problems with continuity. At some point during the filming, Ben sustained a black eye which was not referred to during the course of the programme. Instead, we were given ample of evidence of how shows are carefully edited to promote certain feelings as Ben’s black eye magically appeared and disappeared from scene to scene, despite the fact we were led to believe the story was being told chronologically. Poor.

• The scene where we watched Ben silently contemplating at a launderette late at night. Why would he not use the washing machine we’d seen in his flat earlier? Maybe that just wasn’t atmospheric enough.

• Ben’s spiel when he revealed his identity to everyone. “I actually run a very successful business… several businesses, and have done for the last ten years.” It recalled Queen Victoria disguising herself on Christmas Eve to go and mingle with the unwashed masses.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

29/11/2006

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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